Square Meter of Prairie Project – June 2018

Another month has passed, and I’ve managed to carve out some more time staring at the little square meter of prairie I’m photographing this year.  In June, activity really picked up as lead plant (Amorpha canescens) and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) started blooming within the plot.  However, there was plenty to photograph besides just those species and the many insects they attracted.  I continue to be inspired by the diversity of life I’m finding in a very small plot of land.  Hopefully, I can pass along some of that inspiration, both during these periodic updates and when I somehow assemble all of this at the end of the project.  Here are just a few of the photos taken during June within one single square meter of Lincoln Creek Prairie in Aurora, Nebraska.

I’ve seen quite a few beetles in the plot, including several different species during June. Thanks to Bugguide.net, this one has been identified as Coleothorpa dominicana, in case you’re interested.

This is a completely different gray beetle, and I don’t know what it is, but there were several in the plot late in June.

This beautiful orange beetle (Anomoea sp.) was on a lead plant flower, just as it was starting to bloom.

I don’t know what these little beetles are, but they’ve been in the plot every time I’ve visited during the last month or so. They were usually (maybe always?) on Maximilian sunflower.

I was really glad to see butterfly milkweed blooming. I assumed it would attract quite a few insects, both pollinators and insects that feed on the foliage. So far, I’ve actually seen very few insects on butterfly milkweed. Maybe that’ll change soon, but it’ll have to be quick because the flowering period is wrapping up.

The tiny blossoms of lead plant are especially beautiful when seen up close.

Mike Arduser informs me that this bee species is Andrena quintilus, a specialist feeder on lead plant.

This wasp was only a brief visitor to the plot, but it stuck around long enough to be photographed.

This long-horned beetle was eating the pollen, and probably other parts of the lead plant flowers.  While beetles like this can help pollinate flowers, they also damage them, so they’re probably not the intended audience from the flower’s standpoint.

During the last couple weeks, invasive Japanese beetles have invaded the prairie, including my little plot. This one was denuding a lead plant flower stalk.

At any one time, there must be close to 100 ants in my little plot, and there are several different species. This is one of the bigger ones.

About a week after I got my first ever photos of a lynx spider (not inside my plot, but nearby) I found this one INSIDE my plot, and it sat nicely for me.

There are lots of different fly species that hang around the plot, but this is one of the smallest.

Just a few minutes after I photographed the lynx spider, I spotted it again (or another just like it), this time with one of those tiny flies in tow.

This metallic-looking jumping spider ALMOST stayed in the same place long enough for a photo. Even at 1/125 second shutterpeed, I wasn’t able to freeze the movement of this quick little bugger.

About a week after missing the first jumping spider photo, I finally got the same (?) spider to sit still long enough to capture this image.

There are two milkweed plants in my plot -butterfly milkweed and common milkweed – but this long-horned milkweed beetle wasn’t on either of them. It was on Maximilian sunflower, at least when I saw it.

This might be my proudest capture of this project to date, but only because I’ve seen lots of pearl crescent butterflies come into and through my plot, but most of them took off well before I got within photo range. For this photo, I had to stalk very carefully (and get really lucky).

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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22 Responses to Square Meter of Prairie Project – June 2018

  1. Linda M. Hasselstrom says:

    I think your second photo of the gray beetle is Large Gray Beetle – *Stereopalpus*

    Linda M. Hasselstrom LindaMHasselstrom@windbreakhouse.com

    Author of: *Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal* *Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky*, collected and new poems *The Wheel of the Year: A Writer’s Workbook* *Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet,* with Twyla M. Hansen; *No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life, Between Grass and Sky, Feels Like Far, Bitter Creek Junction, Land Circle, Dakota Bones, Going Over East, Windbreak, Bison: Monarch of the Plains, When a Poet Dies, The Roadside History of South Dakota, Roadkill, Caught By One Wing*.

    Editor of Leaning into the Wind, Woven on the Wind, Crazy Woman Creek with Gaydell Collier and Nancy Curtis; also editor of Journal of a Mountain Man, by James Clyman.

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    On Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 6:08 PM, The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: “Another month has passed, and I’ve managed to carve > out some more time staring at the little square meter of prairie I’m > photographing this year. In June, activity really picked up as lead plant > (Amorpha canescens) and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuber” >

  2. allysacervanteshallett says:

    We saw quite a few pollinators visiting A. tuberosa at the ESU biological station, but surprisingly, have seen little to no developing fruits!

  3. Orvin E. Bontrager says:

    I believe the second gray beetle is dectes stem borer, Dectes texanus . It lays eggs on soybean stem where the leaf petiole attaches. The larvae go down inside the soybean stem to about ground level. They griddle the stem in late Aug to Sept, causing the plants to lodge.

  4. One of your most beautiful and interesting posts. And such a great concept.

  5. Alicia Mullarkey says:

    This is great fun. Thanks, Chris!

  6. Lisa Musgrave says:

    LOVE these shots! Fascinating!

  7. Evelyn Jackson says:

    Love all your close-ups, but the beetles are particularly fascinating. Who knew they were so interesting and beautiful!

  8. Mike Forsberg says:

    Great project, Chris. It will be remarkable to see when finished.

  9. Greg says:

    Absolutely amazing diversity! A great testimonial to the importance of restoring our native prairies!

  10. Loren Padelford says:

    Chris,
    The gray beetle in the second photo is probably a Poplar-gall Saperda (Saperda inornata), a flat-faced longhorn beetle. See: https://bugguide.net/node/view/1113156/bgimage

  11. Kathryn Kerr says:

    I love seeing your posts. Thanks.

  12. Loren Padelford says:

    Chris,
    The fourth photo in your post is of tumbling flower beetles, family Mordellidae. Yours may be Mordella insulata. See https://bugguide.net/node/view/951655

  13. shoreacres says:

    I’ve tried to find more information on the orange beetle you show, but I can’t get any results for the genus in either BugGuide or Google. Might there be a misplaced letter or two?

    I had the opportunity to drive from Kansas City to Houston the first week in June, and the ditches in rural Arkansas were filled with plants I’d never seen (as well as some familiar ones). There’s nothing quite like huge stands of butterfly milkweed to catch the eye! In one place, it was mixed about 50/50 with spiderwort, and the purple and orange was just stunning. I saw several new milkweed species in Kansas and Missouri, too. It was great to see.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      You’re right, I misspelled it in the post. It should be Anomoea, the genus of a group of leaf beetles. Sorry about that. That purple and orange does sound spectacular!

  14. James C. Trager says:

    The little pointy-tipped beetles on Max. sunflower are in the family Mordellidae – tumbling flower beetles. My guess is they are not specific to the sunflower. Usually found in flowers, they may be visiting microscopic nectaries on the sunflower.
    And, what you’ve been waiting for, the ant is Formica incerta, a grassland ant species I find in virtually every prairie remnant and restoration, an often in old fields, too.

  15. Pingback: Photo of the Week – July 13, 2018 | The Prairie Ecologist

  16. Pingback: Square Meter of Prairie Project – July 2018 | The Prairie Ecologist

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